Preseason Lowdown : New Orleans Saints

football, preseason, teams, saints

What’s the story? 

Let the 2012 season serve as a reminder lest anyone think that the head coach of an NFL team is nothing more than a figure-head. The Saints lost their first four games sans Sean Payton, who was serving a year-long suspension for his involvement in the bounty drama. Not only did the Saints not have their own head coach in place for the 2012 season, they didn’t even have their interim coach, Joe Vitt, until week 7 due to his own suspension. The coaches weren’t the only ones to sustain a blow from bounty gate – several players were suspended, as was the GM. The Saints will have everyone back in action in 2013 and will certainly be looking to put the past as far behind them as possible.

Leader and commander:

The aforementioned, Sean Payton, who couldn’t have been missed more.

New kid on the block:

Lots of new defensive pieces for the Saints this year. The Saints hired former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (if that name sounds familiar it’s because his similarly-wired brother, Rex, is the Jets head coach) and picked up several keys defensive players through free agency and the draft.

Last year was…

…bad for the Saints at 7-9 and missing the playoffs; good for Drew Brees who broke Johnny Unitas’ record for number of consecutive games with a passing touchdown. The new record now stands at 54.

Survey says:

The NFC South is a weird division. Each team is poised to have a breakout season at one point or another – the Bucs have Schiano, the Panthers have Newton, the Falcons have everyone, and the Saints have their lives back –  but which team will make the most of their potential? It has yet to be seen if the return of normalcy will be enough to elevate the Saints back to their status as perennial contenders. They are currently hanging out near the middle, ranked 14th overall.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC South Teams

Today we’re heading south, as in the NFC south. Here’s a look into those teams:

The Atlanta Falcons

History: In 1965 the city of Atlanta built the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which ended up being the catalyst for their push for a football team. Both the AFL and the NFL were interested in placing a team in Atlanta (this was in 1965 – pre-merger) but the executives eventually chose to go with the NFL. The Falcons made a Super Bowl appearance in 1998 and had mostly successful seasons under QB Michael Vick, who, after serving time in prison for dog fighting, returned to the NFL to play with the Philadelphia Eagles (where he still plays today).

Current Players to Know: Matt Ryan, QB, is nicknamed “Matty Ice” for his calm and cool demeanor on the field. Michael Turner is a beast of a running back. Tony Gonzalez has played for 16 seasons as a tight end and really started the revolution of the position.

Head Coach: Mike Smith

2011 Regular Season Record: 10-6

What to Watch For in 2012: The Falcons have had their fair share of crushing playoff loses in recent years. This season, they believe they can go all the way. However, so does every team. But if they could make a run for it, this would be the year – likely Tony Gonzalez’s last.

The Carolina Panthers

History: In 1987 the NBA brought the Hornets to Charlotte. This created a buzz with local businessmen who wanted to bring an NFL expansion team to the area, too. In 1993 the NFL unanimously decided to award the Carolinas the newest expansion team. The Panthers played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII and lost.

Current Players to Know: Quarterback Cam Newton was the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He lived up to (and perhaps even surpassed) expectations by having a great season, even though the Panthers were 6-10. Steve Smith (WR) can catch anything. Jonathan Stewart (RB) is bringing some life back to the Panthers running game this year.

Head Coach: Ron Rivera

2011 Regular Season Record: 6-10

What to Watch For in 2012: Continued improvement is expected for the Panthers, who have a relatively new coach and new quarterback. They weren’t as bas as their 6-10 record indicates last year. I bet they’ll be at least 8-8 this season, maybe better.

The New Orleans Saints

History: New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise in 1966. The early years weren’t kind to the Saints, though they’ve had a rich history of players and coaches. The Saints were so bad at one point that fans wore paper bags over their heads while attending games. But after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Saints became a source of healing for the ravaged city. They won the Super Bowl four years later, spurred on by the passion of the city. However, they’ve been the source of much controversy as of late with a major scandal (allegedly putting “bounties” on players) that resulted in multiple suspensions – most notably head coach Sean Payton, who has been suspended for the year.

Current Players to Know: Drew Brees (QB) is the heart and soul of the team. He leads the team in a specific pregame chant that changes every season. Jimmy Graham is a former basketball player who is continuing the trend of domination at the tight end position. Jonathan Vilma, who just had his year-long suspension overturned but will still miss half of the season due to injury and might even get re-suspended by the NFL, is the leader of the defense.

Head Coach: Sean Payton (Interim Head Coach: Joe Vitt) (Interim Interim Head Coach while Joe Vitt Serves His 6 Week Suspension: Aaron Kromer)

2011 Regular Season Record: 13-3

What to Watch For in 2012: The Saints have a lot to overcome this season. Along with the devastating bounty repercussions, they also had a lot of contractual issues to work out with Drew Brees this offseason. They have to play the first 6 weeks of the season with an Interim Interim Head Coach…and then the next 11 with an Interim Head Coach. All while the bounty controversy rages on. It’s going to be rough.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

History: The Bucs actually joined the NFL as an AFC team in 1976. They were moved to the NFC the following year. Jon Gruden coached the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 1992, a year after Tony Dungy had been fired as head coach.

Current Players to Know: Josh Freeman has been decent at quarterback ever since he was drafted in 2009. Vincent Jackson is a new Buc, having spent most of his career as a wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers. Ronde Barber has been a Buc forever, specifically since 1997. He plays cornerback/safety.

Head Coach: Greg Schiano

2011 Regular Season Record: 4-12

What to Watch For in 2012: The Bucs new head coach incited quite the controversy this weekend when he told his players to try to make a move to disrupt the ball on the last play of the game when the Giants were in the victory formation. Lots of people called it an unprofessional move…but at least he’s coaching to win the game. He’s teaching his players how to fight for 60 minutes. And that could definitely lead to good things in the future.

Gone Campin’ : NFL Training Camp

I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach and giggles escaping with uncontrollable glee. And not because I greet each morning with a smile and a song, ala Snow White. I greet most mornings with decidedly un-Disney-esque sentiments. But this morning was different. Because this morning…Packers training camp begins.


Training camp is the pre-pre-season. It’s basically a really long audition for teams to figure out who makes the 53 man roster. It’s also the ultimate boot camp to get players back into football shape.

Because training camp marks the beginning of the football season and comes at the end of a 6 month football drought, it probably gets more hype than necessary. But really, enthusiasm is warranted after 6 months of racing, X games, and golf on Sunday afternoons. (My apologies to all of those sports and their fans…I just can’t handle it.)

Here’s what you need to know about the big training camp stories this season:


Peyton Manning beginning his reign with the Denver Broncos is the biggest focus point of training camp this year. You may have seen Peyton Manning on any number of commercials for automobiles and/or sneakers and/or Oreos. He was the franchise quarterback* for the Indianapolis Colts for the past 14 years and is one the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. However, after sitting last year out to due injury, the Colts decided to move on with a spring chicken: Stanford’s stand-out prospect and first overall draft pick Andrew Luck. Because transitional quarterback moves can create controversies (like the 49ers Montana to Young transition and the Packers Favre to Rodgers transition), Peyton decided to leave the Colts and pursue greener pastures. He found them in Denver. All eyes will be on how he plays post-injury (he had a year-long rehab from neck surgery) and how he fits with a new organization. (Additional trivia: You may also know Peyton’s brother, Eli Manning, who is the quarterback for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.)


Peyton’s arrival in Denver displaced their starting quarterback, Tim Tebow. You may know Tim Tebow because you don’t live under a rock. Homeboy is everywhere, and he’ll be a huge story of training camp because, well, he’s a huge story no matter where he goes, on the field or off.

After Peyton decided to come to Denver Tim was traded to the New York Jets, a media-happy team on their quiet days. The Jets are known for being big talkers and attracting lots of media attention for their unconventional antics, so adding Tebow, who already draws plenty of media attention for completely opposite reasons (parents: if your kids need a role model, look no further!), might cause both the New York and national media outlets to explode. From a football standpoint, it will be interesting to see how the Jets use Tebow, who is currently slated to be the teams back-up quarterback. The Jets are talking about using him in a variety of quarterback and non-quarterback ways, but again, it’s the Jets. And the Jets talk. A lot.


New Orleans. Oh, New Orleans. You’ve probably heard something about the Saints this off-season, whether it’s regarding the bounty program or the Drew Brees contract negotiations. The drama that unfolded over the past 6 months is what multi-million dollar movies are made of, but in short: the NFL uncovered a substantial “bounty” program run by the organization in which players were paid extra to take out other players on the field. The Saints deny the existence of this system and say they had a “pay for performance” program like many teams do. But in the end their head coach, Sean Payton, was suspended for a year as a result, along with numerous other player and coach suspensions.

The good news is that after months of negotiations the Saints finally reached a deal with franchise quarterback* Drew Brees so he will be back in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. Their training camp story is interesting because they’ve basically been decimated during the off-season with suspensions and bad news. They will also be without their interim head coach for the first 6 weeks of the regular season due to the bounty suspensions, so everyone will be waiting to see how they pull it all together in spite of their circumstances.


Training camp wouldn’t be training camp without a good holdout story. This season it’s Maurice Jones-Drew, who is “holding out” (not attending any team activities, including training camp) to try and get a better contract. The tricky part is that the Jaguars owner has already said that they expect Jones-Drew, the league’s premiere running back, to honor the last two years of his contract, and will not give him a long term deal. What happens next is a long, expensive stand-still to see who blinks first.


Namely: Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III in Washington. Both will garner lots of debate. They are two of the most highly esteemed quarterbacks to enter the league in the past several years (or…ever), which is why they were picked first and second in this year’s NFL draft, respectively. Too much will be made of their training camp experience because, after all, it’s just camp. But it will be a big story nonetheless, especially for Andrew Luck, who is replacing aforementioned legend Peyton Manning.


Here’s a little hometown love for Buffalo! They did WORK over the off-season, bringing in much-needed big name free agents. The biggest of which is Mario Williams, who chose to sign with Buffalo after leaving the Houston Texans. He plays defensive end, a key position on any team, but his addition to the Bills makes them about 1,000,000 times better. If they can pull it together on offense they could be legit this season.

To get the full effect of training camp, take a look at this video. And lest you think training camp is all work and no play, see Brett Keisel.

*a “franchise quarterback” is a team’s star player, the quarterback who they believe will lead their team for the foreseeable future